/ 15 October 2007

Airbus delivers first A380 superjumbo

Airbus on Monday delivered the first of its A380s, the world’s biggest passenger jet, to Singapore Airlines, 18 months behind schedule but with both sides hailing the major advance in air travel.

The 73m-long superjumbo was handed over in a ceremony at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse in southern France.

Thomas Enders, chief executive of Airbus, said: ”We are obviously extremely proud to deliver the first A380 to Singapore Airlines, but this is the latest milestone in a long journey.”

Roll-out of the doubledecker jet, which could carry up to 853 passengers, is 18 months behind schedule because of production problems that embarrassed the European firm which is in bitter competition with Boeing of the United States. Airbus may never make money from the superjumbo.

Chew Choon Seng, chief executive of Singapore Airlines, said ”although it has taken more time than initially anticipated, the A380 is well worth the wait”.

He talked of a ”new chapter” in the history of aviation. The jet has about 50% more floor space than its nearest rival, Boeing’s 747-400 jumbo jet.

The airline showed off the cabin interior and Chew said ”the piece de resistance will our new premier cabin which will introduce a travel experience beyond first class”.

The Singapore Airlines A380 has 12 private suites each with a fully adjustable seat and a real bed with full size mattress. Because it will concentrate on giving extra space to passengers, Singapore Airlines’ A380s will have about 470 seats.

The first plane leaves Toulouse on Tuesday for Singapore. It will go into service on the Singapore-Sydney route on October 25.

Airbus had major problems with the wiring of the more than 530km of cable in each aircraft.

Lack of cooperation between French and German engineers — Airbus has plants in Britain, France, Germany and Spain — was partly to blame and the group has since launched a restructuring plan aiming to cut 10 000 jobs.

The first delivery came only a few days after Boeing announced trouble with its new midsized 787 Dreamliner, which is now six months behind schedule.

The operational problems experienced by both Airbus and Boeing demonstrate the complexity of making modern airliners.

The A380 problems over the past two years, have provoked management changes, financial losses and the politically-sensitive cost-cutting plan.

Most recently, the plane has been at the centre of an insider trading scandal, with top managers and key shareholders suspected of selling shares in Airbus parent group EADS before the A380 production problems were made public.

Sixteen airlines have placed firm orders for the A380, with Dubai-based Emirates the leading client among a customer list that includes predominantly Asian, European and Gulf-based carriers.

But beyond the hype about the size of the world’s biggest passenger jet some analysts doubt that the aircraft will ever make money.

The A380 is designed to satisfy expected demand from two types of airline: those operating from hub airports such as Dubai, Singapore or London, and others that have limited take-off slots at crowded airports and want to maximise capacity.

Airbus has 180 firm orders and commitments to buy according to its latest figures, but the group has admitted it must more than double this figure for the project to be profitable.

Due to the delays and cost overruns, Airbus needs to sell 420 A380s at catalogue price to cover its costs — up from 270 when the programme was launched in 2000.

Given that most sales are discounted, the final sales figure needed for breakeven will be even higher than this.

Airbus claims the A380 will offer the lowest cost per passenger of any airliner flying and will also emit less carbon dioxide per passenger and significantly reduce noise at takeoff and landing.

But its giant size means that it requires modifications to airport infrastructure, limiting the number of destinations it will be able to fly to.

It is expected to serve longhaul routes linking major hubs such as Dubai, Doha, Johannesburg, London, New York, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. – AFP